On Saturday before Easter, I attended the funeral Potlatch of a wonderful Christian man, named Johnny Goodlataw. Johnny was an inspiration. He was a true believer in Jesus Christ, who loved his culture and taught it to anyone who would listen.
Some early missionaries in Alaska and other places tried to eradicate the potlatch. They saw it as a pagan ceremony that led people to evil. I am happy that they didn't succeed. Now Native Christians celebrate their faith while keeping their funeral traditions.
One traditional part of the potlatch ceremony is to dance with Indian drums. The dances start with sad, "Cry Songs" and then move toward celebration type songs. The idea is that you meet the family in their grieving and then move with them toward joy and celebration.
In some ways this reminds me of Christian worship in Lutheran Tradition. We begin with the sadness of confession and then move toward the praise and celebration that we have because we have been forgiven.
After the first set of dancing, I went over and talked with Elder, Kenny Thomas, from Tanacross. Kenny said, "You are learning to Indian Dance."
"I am trying." I replied.
"That is good." Kenny said. "We dance to help encourage the family. They are very sad so we come and we dance to help them have something else to think about. We are not like you white people. We love each other very much. So when someone dies, people come from very far away to show our love for them. I think that is what God has given us to do. He has given us the gift to dance and so we use it to help make others happy."
I knew that Kenny had come from over three hours away to attend this potlatch. "Yes," I agreed. "We white people can learn from that."
God has blessed Native people with an understanding of community and how to encourage one another from which all people can learn.
I hope that some of you will consider coming to Alaska to help us share the love of Jesus this Summer or in a future summer . As you are here you will have the opportunity to share the Gospel. I like that way of phrasing it. We share the Gospel because as we give of the blessings God has given us, God also blesses us from the blessings that he has given others. Indian dancing is a blessing to me.